Turner's Take: A Rivalry Renewed
Just after 6 p.m. tonight, Carolina and South Carolina will kick off college football in 2013. Tonight’s game marks the conclusion of a home-and-home series originally scheduled to be played in 2007 in Kenan Stadium and 2010 in Columbia. Of course, three seasons ago, the Tar Heels had the opportunity to play LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic and asked the Gamecocks to push the game back. So, here we are.
“There’s always been a lot of interest in North Carolina playing South Carolina,” said senior associate athletic director Rick Steinbacher, a Tar Heel letterman himself. “I think there have been challenges, particularly South Carolina being an SEC school but also playing Clemson every year. It’s been hard to work out for them, schedule-wise, and it was a challenge for us, too.”
On October 13, 2007, the Gamecocks and Tar Heels got together for the first time in nearly 16 years (see Lee Pace’s rundown of the rivalry to that point). Carolina was 2-4 in Butch Davis’ first season in Chapel Hill, and the sixth-ranked Gamecocks were 5-1 in their third season under Steve Spurrier.
South Carolina struck early when Chris Smelley found Dion Lecorn in the back of the end zone in the first quarter, and the Tar Heels couldn’t answer when Connor Barth missed a 49-yard field goal attempt, his first miss in two seasons. A 30-yard strike from Smelley put the Gamecocks up 14 before Barth was true from 45 yards to put Carolina on the board. South Carolina scored again just before the half when Smelley connected with tight end Jared Cook. The Gamecocks led 21-3 at halftime.
The score remained the same headed into the fourth quarter, but the Tar Heels were threatening at the break. On the first play of the final stanza, 3rd and 10 from the Gamecock 18, T.J. Yates completed a pass to Greg Little to make it 21-9, South Carolina. A bobbled point-after snap negated the extra point try.
After a three-and-out from the Gamecocks, Carolina’s next drive stalled near the red zone when quarterback-turned-wide receiver Joe Dailey was intercepted at the South Carolina 6. The teams traded possessions until Little pounced on a Johnny White fumble at the South Carolina 26. Then, Yates and Hakeem Nicks hooked up to get the Tar Heels to the three before Yates did the rest. The two-point conversion attempt failed, making it 21-15 Gamecocks with 3:03 to play.
A missed Gamecock field goal gave the Tar Heels life with 41 seconds to play, but Yates’ hail-mary attempt from the South Carolina 31 came up short as time expired.
It was a valiant effort from a young Tar Heel team that played without Brandon Tate in the second half and with a hobbled Hakeem Nicks. The Carolina defense stood tall in the second half, allowing just 62 yards and coming up with a big fourth-quarter interception. In his postgame column, Adam Lucas wrote of the big-time football atmosphere that was Kenan Stadium that day, of the promise of the future. We couldn’t have known the winding road that lay ahead in the intervening years.
And so tonight, the eyes of the college football world will be on Columbia. Carolina will be the visitors at Williams-Brice Stadium (in fact, it’s almost a certainty that the ‘Carolina’ on the scoreboard won’t be our Carolina). The Tar Heels appear to be on the verge of big-time football under Larry Fedora, and tonight begins year two of that process. “It’s a big game,” Tar Heel sophomore wideout Quinshad Davis said. Davis is the only South Carolina native on the Carolina roster. “They’re the number six team in the nation, and for us to go out there and make a statement, it lets the world and everybody else know what we can do. I’m looking forward to it.”
With the home-and-home series complete after tonight’s game, it won’t be another 16 years before the Gamecocks and Tar Heels compete on the gridiron again. In May, it was announced that Carolina and South Carolina will play on Labor Day weekend at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. “We’ve got a great fan base in Charlotte,” Fedora said at the ACC Kickoff in July. “I think it would be awesome to play at the Panthers’ stadium every so often. I think that game against South Carolina in ’15 is going to be awesome.”
“We wanted to do that at least once, with the idea of potentially doing it again in the future, but definitely to do it at least that one time in 2015,” Steinbacher said.
Fedora is a native Texan, but he sees the potential in developing an out-of-conference rivalry with our neighbor to the south. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t,” he said. "I think it’s a natural thing. I think it could eventually become a regional type of rivalry, a border war type of thing, so I think it’s a good thing.”
Follow Turner Walston on Twitter.